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I Like Lists

Posted: December 27th, 2011, by Marceline Smith

Well, if Dr Proffitt is going to come out of retirement, I guess I should too. Especially since I had nothing better to do on Boxing Day after eating my breakfast pie.

RECORDS

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will / Earth Division EP
Being one of those annoying people who always prefer the early stuff, Mogwai continue to be my favourite band for consistently releasing albums that are better than the last one. And 12″ EPs without filler.

Nicola Roberts – Cinderella’s Eyes
Always the Girl Aloud most likely to do something interesting, I was thrilled she went down the bonkers Scandinavian pop route, one of my favourite genres.

Annie – Don’t Stop
Slightly less bonker,s but actually Scandinavian, pop.

Wild Flag – Wild Flag
So hyped I was almost put off checking them out, but yeah, they are great.

 

FILMS

Arrietty
A year with a Ghibli movie is always a good year, and this was almost up to Miyazaki levels.

Super 8
So full of JJ Abrams cliches it’s hilarious, but the train crash scene is one the greatest things I saw on screen all year.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I was sure this would be terrible but it stands up well and somehow managed to be even more ponderous in a couple of hours than the miniseries.

Upside Down – Creation Records thing
Nostalgia ahoy – so good!

Tintin
Tintin was a Big Thing in our house as children so I was never going to be happy with all the bizarre story changes/additions but it was at least fun.

 

BOOKS

A Dance With Dragons – George RR Martin
A bit flawed, but after a 5 year wait, I’m just happy to have more story. The TV show (Game of Thrones) was awesome though – at least that will keep us going for the next five.

The Celestial Cafe – Stuart Murdoch
A cross between a memoir and a Belle and Sebastian tour diary (and a love letter to Glasgow). I’d have liked this anyway, but it kept me entertained while sitting in A&E for 2 hours after slicing my hand open so extra props for that.

Nothing To See Here – Anne Ward
A guidebook to the unexpectedly interesting places of Scotland – if you’ve ever considered taking a detour on your journey after spotting a bizarre road sign then this is the book for you. Buy it here.

100 Tiny Moments From My Past, Present and Future – Edward Ross
Fantastic little book of comics, drawn every day for 100 days and documenting tiny everyday moments. Even greater are the little peeks into his past and his imagined future. Buy it here.

 

ZINES

Burn Collector #15 – Al Burian
One of my favourite ever zinesters, always managing to mix hilarity and melancholy in equal parts. The personal articles are my favourite but also includes some interesting stuff about Berlin, where he’s now based. Buy it here.

How To Be A Ghost – Neil Slorance & Campbell Miller
A cute little illustrated zine about what to do when you’re a ghost. It’s a great read and one of 5 zines inspired by my zine workshop last year – so cool. Buy it here.

The Various Things I Eat by Deth P Sun
Deth drew everything he ate every day for six months. Surprisingly interesting to look through, especially if you’re not American. What is all this stuff? Buy it here.

DIY Times
Packed full of interviews with people doing things the DIY way, whether that’s printing t-shirts, making tables or running Supersonic. Probably my favourite zine discovery this year. Buy it here.

Fire & Knives
Still the only magazine I spend £10 on and consider that a bargain. Great food writing and even better design and illustration. Buy it here.

 

EVENTS

Mogwai at the Grand Ole Opry, Glasgow
I hadn’t seen Mogwai for a couple of years so this was equal parts nostalgia and jaw dropping amazement at their new stuff. Plus the fun of watching Mogwai while sitting in the balcony of a tiny line dancing venue can’t really be overstated.

Errors at the Barras, Glasgow
It’s been even longer since I saw Errors and I kind of hate myself now. So so good. Their next album is going to be killer. They even upstaged Mogwai who they were supporting as Mogwai were (dare I say it?) TOO LOUD, to the point of distortion.

The Most Incredible Thing at Sadlers Wells, London
I have been getting into ballet lately, like the old person/teenage girl I am, so imagine my delight when the Pet Shop Boys staged a ballet. Possibly the only ballet to successfully combine Communist Russia, paper cutting, the X Factor and pop music, and do it perfectly seriously.

Eska at Stereo, Glasgow
What can I say? Like being transported back to 1998 for the evening, not to mention the minor diskant meet-up. Good times.

Anyone else?

2010 catch-up: Films

Posted: January 3rd, 2011, by Marceline Smith

The best films we watched in 2010.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Hate me now, if you must.  In a universe almost but not exactly identical to ours, I’m disgusted at someone else for liking this film.  Well, I call it a film, but it’s not much more than two hours of rapidly-edited geek wish-fulfillment fantasy.  It cynically manipulated me, and I fucking loved it. (Alex McChesney)

ENTER THE VOID
My jaw literally hit the floor several times over one Friday night when I found myself subjected to Enter The Void. I went in expecting to see something that might blow my socks off but I was expecting to have a headache within a minute after experiencing the most intense opening credits of any movie ever. From here the visuals of the piece stunned me as the main character drifts above the streets of Tokyo for two and a half hours revisiting his life and of those around him and seeing where life is taking everyone. This was transgression to the max via lots of neon lights, bad taste and negative suggestion in a combination of the David Lynch sensibilities of Inland Empire crossed with Peep Show set in Tokyo with plenty of sexy time, an Eraserhead element ultimately looking towards a 2001: A Space Odyssey pay off and finale via copious amounts of hallucinogenic drugs. A film that recurringly smacks the viewer over the head there genuinely were moments in this movie that I never expected to see on screen including a “no he just didn’t” ultimate temptation. The film certainly put me off ever visiting Tokyo. After the viewing I attended director Gaspar Noe did a Q&A where he appeared wholly amused by our shell-shocked expressions. My other favourite movie moment was seeing a double bill of The Warriors and Repo Man at the Prince Charles cinema. (JGRAM)

Another Year by Mike Leigh is a beautiful film. It’s classic Leigh in that it’s slow-moving, nothing happens, it’s full of shots of grim bits of Britain, but it’s got great characters that have time to breathe and develop, and the most amazing undercurrent of sadness running through the whole thing. (Stu Fowkes)

Rinco’s Restaurant
I went back to Japan this year and amongst all the usual kind of blockbuster movies on the flight, I discovered this gem. It’s a Japanese film about a girl called Rinco who loses her voice and starts a restaurant in her mum’s shed, and all the meals she makes change peoples’ lives for the better. That could of course be terrible (the trailer is not entirely awesome) but it’s all very Japanese and charming and very twee. It also has some great stop-motion animation and songs and a flying pig. Do see it if you get the chance! (Marceline Smith)

Land of the Lost
I’ve long been rather frustrated with what I’ve termed the curse of Saturday Night Live: comedians are hilarious on the long-running comedy show and then go on to star in feature films that are complete and utter drivel.  Adam Sandler, for example, was featured in a number of terrific, almost Dada-esque sketches on SNL, then went on to find success with drek like “The Waterboy.” I’ve largely avoided the films of Will Ferrell for this very reason.  And the previews for most of his recent films haven’t really enticed me.  But I did come across the campy remake of classic kids television series “Land of the Lost” recently and you know what?  It wasn’t bad.  Ferrell’s playing his standard character — an overconfident idiot — but he can still mine the archetype for plenty of laughs.  Danny McBride, one of the best things to happen Hollywood comedies, is also along for the ride.  And the movie’s sarcastic sendup of science fiction clichés is solid entertainment.  Plus, “Land of the Lost” has one of the best uses of banjo in a movie theme song ever, surpassing even “Deliverance.” (Wil Forbis)

American Splendor
Cleveland’s Harvey Pekar, writer of bittersweet-mundane comics, died earlier this year. This film about his existentially-challenged 70 years could easily get carried away trying to stuff in persistent meta- perspectives (like the guilty Synecdoche New York) as it involves everyone significant in Harvey’s life as well as actors playing them. Luckily things don’t get too clever for their own good. A moving account of cancer, banality and dissing David Letterman on air. (Pascal Ansell)

Ponyo
I hate you Disney. While Ghibli’s latest animated film came out in the summer of 2008 in Japan, and a year later in the USA, we had to wait until February 2010 for a cinema release. And they wonder why piracy is such a big issue these days! There was also no option to see the original subtitled version but the dubbing was mostly fine (certainly nowhere in the league of Valley Girl Princess Mononoke). As with all the Ghibli movies, I was pretty much sucked in from the start – there’s not a huge amount of plot but it’s all so fun with some glorious scenes like Ponyo running over the waves made by giant fish, and a great mix of the everyday and the unexpected. I suppose it’s a cross between Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle which is alright by me. (Marceline Smith)

Christmas Catch-up: Films

Posted: December 26th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Moon
At once a beautiful (mostly) CGI-free homage to the thoughtful sci-fi of the Sixties and Seventies and a series of curveballs intended to keep aficionados of the same on their toes.  Duncan Jones has proven himself to be a talent to watch, and Sam Rockwell’s performance as a lonely lunar miner about to come to the end of his contract is a career best. (Alex McChesney)

Moon
I really enjoyed Duncan Jones’ Moon, a film less about science fiction than about loneliness and what it means to be a human being. (Chris Summerlin)

Zombieland
Judging by current Cinema, the two most popular movie monsters these days are vampires and zombies.  My distaste for vampires is well-known, but I’ve always had a certain deep-seated affection for the cannibalistic consumer of brains and flesh known as the zombie.  Perhaps it’s because I, stumbling aimlessly through life, often feel like a zombie.  Regardless, I’ve eagerly lapped up the cinema exploits of zombies for years, from George Romero’s classic ‘… Dead’ trilogy, to their reinvention in the hands of recently deceased director Dan O’Bannon’s ‘Return of the Living Dead’, to more modern interpretations such as the stupendous horror/farce ‘Shaun of the Dead’. In recent years, however, even I’ve gotten a little tired of zombies.  We all know the routine – some military experiment goes awry or some strange disease spreads across the land and pretty soon the dead are clawing their way out of the grave to rip open people’s bellies and chew on their entrails.  Because of this, I almost didn’t even bother to see ‘Zombieland’.  This would have been a great personal loss.  While I won’t go as far as a friend of mine who claimed it to be the greatest of all zombie movies, ‘Zombieland’ is pretty damn good.  Part of its success is the fact that it presumes its audience is familiar with the zombie mythos – it doesn’t even bother with setting up the zombie apocalypse; out of the gate we land right in the middle of the human/zombie battle sure to soon be raging on our streets.  From there the movie mixes together a clever combination of intriguing characters (Jesse Eisenberg’s ‘Columbus’ is like a young Woody Allen caught in a zombie Holocaust), snappy dialogue and plenty of blood and gore.  On top of all that, the female lead is my most recent cinema crush, Emma Stone.  Such enticing ingredients combined with a great cameo appearance by Bill Murray, are enough to make you forget all about those ‘Twilight’ vamps. (Wil Forbis)

The Hangover
Nothing stands out. The Hangover was good, childish fun though. (Simon Minter)

Shanghai Kiss
I rent DVDs from LoveFilm and they have always been awesome at sending me stuff from the top of my list but for some reason they’ve gone a bit mental lately and have sent me random things from way down. I was initially a bit unhappy about this but it turned out good as this is now one of my new favourite films. It’s basically a Lost in Translation for China but with half an American high school movie thrown in and Miles from LOST. I love teenage high school movies, I love China and I love Ken Leung so hurrah. It’s actually adorable – you should see it. (Marceline Smith)

The Dirty Three
I also heartily recommend the DVD documentary on the Dirty Three even though it came out some time ago. It’s a little heavily weighted towards recent footage (understandably because no one gave a shit enough to film them at the start) but it’s a wonderful tale. (Chris Summerlin)

Paranormal Activity
Among the constant flow of Hostel sequels and shitty Michael Bay remakes, a proper, old-school  – and excellent – horror. Hurrah for that. Paranormal Activity is basically the movie equivalent of a rollercoaster ride, and I’ve never seen a cinema audience so nervy watching a film. It’s expertly, artfully crafted, observing the conventions of the genre when it needs to, and subverting them when it feels like it. The pace is excellent, the characters wholly believable and it understands that the best horror always takes place off the screen. (Stuart Fowkes)

In The Loop
This has been an amazing year for movies but the one I have watched over and over has been In The Loop which also gives me the opportunity to crowbar some gushing about The Thick Of It into this entry. Basically I wish I was Malcolm Tucker, fearless and seemingly without conscience, a man so focused on his aims he appears to suffer no remorse at the hands of fools. If only I could be so single-minded. Even better though his language and swearing is a pure symphony of poetic bile. This was a movie and TV show that required much concentration to which the rewards felt almost infinite as an edutainment tool. Now just don’t get Toby and Olly mixed up. (JGRAM)

World’s Greatest Dad
You’ve seen Death To Smoochy, right? The last truly good Robin Williams movie? Well, I have good news. There’s a new black comedy starring Robin Williams and it’s a bazillion times better than Death To Smoochy. Crazy, I know. And even crazier is that it’s written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. It’s about Williams who plays a single father attempting to be a published author with a teenage son (played by Daryl Sabara, the curly haired redhead from those Spy Kids movies) who is into any and every kind of crazy ass fetish porn, and the two of them have some, to put it lightly, relationship issues. Actually, the problem is that they’re both huge ass holes. Watching Williams being such a prick is so entertaining. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so long and hard (yup) when watching a movie. I literally had to rewind it a least a dozen times to catch new jokes that I missed while laughing at the old ones. There are some pretty serious parts, though. At times, it’s just fucking tragic. But I applaud the movie that makes me laugh my ass off at the most horribly depressing things. Which might be the reason World’s Greatest Dad slipped by relatively unnoticed. It is truly unique in it’s comedy darkness. My guess is not everyone can handle that sort of humor. But I’m sure most of you can. Especially since there weren’t too many truly fantastic movies this year (only Star Trek and Crank 2 immediately come to mind). And for one of them to have such a strong performance from an increasingly shitty actor makes me so happy. I can’t think of a single reason not to see this movie. (Justin Snow)

Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans

Posted: November 1st, 2009, by Alex McChesney

Much as I enjoy his movies, I suspect that Werner Herzog and I have very little in common. I’m not German, have never had a mustache, and am not an acclaimed director. In fact, I suspect that our lives probably only intersect on one tiny point. Neither of us have seen Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. Not that it really matters. Port of Call… was never intended to have any connection with that film, and it’s title seems to have been dictated by a marketing suit who happened to notice that both films involve… well… you know. It’s an unfortunate decision that gives this film the air of a dashed-off sequel when it very much deserves to be judged on its own merits.

Nicolas Cage plays the titular copper, who starts the film as a reasonably good lieutenant – at least as good as anyone in the film gets – who injures his back in the line of duty and quickly becomes hooked on prescription painkillers, so beginning a downward spiral of addiction that takes in everything from gambling to heroin. On the journey to rock bottom he struggles to keep himself together long enough to solve the gangland killing of a family of illegal immigrants, maintain some kind of relationship with his equally damaged prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes), and not get killed by one of the many, many people he pisses off on the way.

It sounds grim, but it’s played as a comedy, albeit a pitch-black one. Cage has never been the man to go to for a subtle, nuanced performance. He can, however, be immensely entertaining when let off the leash and allowed to gnaw on the scenery, and Herzog knows this, having clearly seasoned every last prop and encouraged him to indulge his vices in tandem with his character, albeit vices of performance rather than chemical consumption. The film never tips into pantomime however, not least because of Herzog’s traditionally documentarian style, which deliberately limits the use of multiple camera angles to lend a odd veneer of realism to scenes of bug-eyed crack-addled insanity, while some delightfully off-kilter inserts shot on video keep the audience unbalanced.

Screenwriter William M. Finkelstein is a veteran of TV police procedurals, having spent the majority of his career writing for the likes of L.A. Law and Law & Order, but anyone coming to Bad Lieutenant for a cop movie is likely to be disappointed. In a sense it has a lot in common with Herzog’s 1977 movie Stroszek, replacing that film’s doomed immigrant protagonist with one born and raised in the USA. Indeed, Bad Lieutenant explicitly references Stroszek on at least one occasion, suggesting that the similarity is not accidental. Herzog, who now lives in Los Angeles, was allegedly displeased with the way his earlier film was seen purely as an indictment of America, and perhaps this film can be seen as an attempt to soften that interpretation by placing greater responsibility for his downfall in the main character’s hands, though facilitated by modern society.

In any case, Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans should be relished for the bleak insanity of the Lieutenant’s rollercoaster ride of self-destruction, though it’s a ride likely to turn your stomach by the end.

Moon

Posted: September 22nd, 2009, by Chris Summerlin

I hate going to the cinema. I think it must stem from some long-suppressed childhood memory. Maybe I was flashed at? Who knows. All I do know is that being made to endure the ticks, rustles, coughs, chomps, nasal whistles, mobile phone beeps and whispered questions of a room full of strangers (not to mention all of the above from myself too) is close to a form of torture for me. So I rarely go. I especially rarely go and see a science fiction movie.
My primary problem with movies of the genre is that they’re invariably made by people who have an interest in details. It’s understandable. In order to create a believable futureworld you have to be able to consider every last detail to make this vision believable. You have to think how door hinges would work in the future, how tin openers would evolve, how you’d take a dump in zero gravity and so on or your film will just end up being the subject of a very detailed website pointing out the flaws and contradictions in the science involved and people who go to fan conventions would laugh at you. And, most importantly for me, you’re saddled with a film that lasts 17 hours and 17 hours is a long time to spend in the cinema.
So why the hell did I end up watching Moon, the directorial debut by Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie, son of the Thin White Duke)?
It wasn’t just because it was free.

It’s because the cosmos lights something up within me. I can stare at well-taken images and film of the solar system and our own planet for ever. The recent BBC documentary James May At The Edge Of Space made me cry. I share most pre-pubescent boys’ dream of being an astronaut but it’s not to boldly go where no man has gone before but just so I could sit there and look at Earth in one frame of my eyesight and in total peace and silence. Imagine it. So I went along figuring that, if nothing else, I’d get to see some beautiful shots of the Moon and Earth whilst sitting in a comfortable chair.

What I actually got was totally unexpected. For starters, this is a very compact and minimal film, weighing in around the length of your average John Hughes flick at just over 90 mins.
This has been achieved by completely stripping the science fiction elements down to simple offerings of only the most important information. You know the central character Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is on a 3 year employment contract to man a space station on the Moon and oversee automated processes to mine Helium 3 from the soil. That’s about as far as the tech side of things gets. You see machines work and processes happen and quickly understand that the details are somehow not important and that you should concentrate your efforts elsewhere and that being wowed by a person’s vision of the future is not Jones’ aim here.

The great thing about this film is that it manages to completely capture what it is about the moon that fascinates us but yet scares us too. This sense of the unknown, of a freedom and ambiguity that is both very liberating and very oppressive too. The juxtaposition of tight, strip-light-lit claustrophobia and this overwhelming sense of space that the surface of the moon has gives the film a strange and creepy quality. Jones has been careful to restrict the number of locations that the film is set in to accentuate these feelings of contrast and subtle touches like the repeating refrain of the music help to bring about a dream-like state in the viewer that allows you to accept some of the films more peculiar moments as being conceivable.

The mid-section of the film is willingly given over to this feeling of peculiarity and confusion as the routine of Sam’s existence gets abruptly broken when he crashes his lunar mining truck after seeing the vision of a young girl in his path on the moon’s surface. He comes round in the medical bay, tended to by the onboard robot GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and then impulsively wants to get outside of the space station where he eventually stumbles across himself, unconcious in the lunar truck you presumed he had been rescued from.
Any other science fiction film would have force-fed you so much information by this point that, as the viewer you would probably understand that what is occurring is that 2 clones of the same man (unaware that they are clones) are coming face to face with each other. As it is, Jones’ embracing of the sense of the vague and the mysterious means you never quite accept that solution even when it slowly dawns on the duo of Sams that this is the case and that the weekly correspondence with their “family” is pre-recorded and that the reason they can’t contact Earth is not due to a malfunctioning transmitter but because the people who cloned them and put them there don’t want to them to know the truth.

Throughout, Jones comes back to this theme of humanity shining through even the coldest and bleakest situations; shining through where they should be no humanity there. The messages Sam hears from the bosses of the mining company are noticeably less tender than the robot voice of GERTY and when the realisation hits the ‘old’ Sam that he is a clone and he tries to hack into the computer system to check CCTV tapes it is GERTY who helps him do it. The tapes themselves reveal a succession of Sams, each growing more thrilled as time draws closer to the end of their 3 year spell and they view the same pre-recorded messages from their family and long to return to Earth. Each growing more ill in the week leading up to the conclusion of their contract as some pre-installed disease eats them up. Each climbing into a pod to be returned to Earth only to be vapourised and a new Sam delivered from a stock of hundreds in the depths of the station to awake, dazed and as though having been in an accident and with the necessary memories of their arrival and their life on Earth pre-implanted in their brain.
Rockwell shines here, conveying complete deflation of an already struggling person with a subtlety that is hard in a film where you play both the central characters.

It’s far from perfect though. This idea of space bringing about feelings of helplessness is nothing new – in fact, it could be argued that the basic premise for this film is pretty much Red Dwarf right down to HOLLY/GERTY. Also, working in the realm of space travel, human beings as alien forms and cloning is hardly fresh ground when your Dad is David Bowie and some of the visual elements, appealing though they are, are straight from the Stanley Kubrick school of font-obsession and creating futuristic environments from source material that we understand as being from the past.
I also have a problem with the ending. The pair of Sams work out a way of blasting the ‘original’ Sam back to Earth in a pod before the help team arrives to fix the crashed truck and discovers them both there. In the end, the illness that overtook each of his predecessors finally gets him too and it’s decided that the ‘new’ Sam should be the one to go in the pod. It seems to me that they go to great lengths to give any future clones a better chance of working out their situation and I read this as being because they don’t know if the pod will get back to Earth OK or not. I like this ambiguity and it seems deliberate.
There is a beautiful moment where the ‘original’ Sam dies just after he sees the pod with the ‘new’ Sam blast itself off the moon and into space. You understand somehow that because they’re clones it doesn’t matter which of them makes it back and in effect it’s just Sam Bell returning to Earth and not one version or another. You also accept that the pod maybe won’t make it, but the next clone of Sam might work out a better way, or the next clone, or the next clone and so on and so on…
This makes the voiceover from a talk show (in which Sam is exposing the conspiracy upon his return) that has been overdubbed over the shots of the pod approaching the Earth’s atmosphere a little too neat for a film that has been built, up to that point, on deliberately shaky foundations. It feels like this was tacked on at the behest of a focus group or to conclude the film more completely when it didn’t need it.

Having said that, this is a fantastic film. Rather than being a science fiction movie and dealing with detail and technological wonders in order to astonish an audience, it’s a supremely touching story about how important the past (memories) and the future (hope) are to establishing exactly what it is that makes a human being human. Even though the memories that Bell has are fake they are still memories and even though he/they understand that they are clones they still have a human instinct to help and to protect each other and most importantly to return home – even if they’ve never been there before.
You feel this compassionate instinct too in a sense of profound upset when you realise the videos of a family that are keeping Sam sane and motivated are of a family long-gone, of a family he never really knew. You really feel for him and how utterly alone he is and how utterly pointless his existence is too. Let’s not forget you’re feeling this about a film in which the 3 central characters are 2 clones and a robot.
Like I said, this is a film about humanity where there should be none.
If Jones is going to show the same level of compassion and warmth in all his movies then consider me a fan.

Summer catch-up 2009: Films

Posted: July 22nd, 2009, by Marceline Smith

1-2-3-4
I’m still hoping that my friend’s feature film 1-2-3-4 gets picked up for proper UK distribution, as it sorely deserves it. Plus, I’m in it – bit part though it is – and its success could be the launchpad for my forthcoming Hollywood lifestyle. [Simon Minter]

Star Trek
I haven’t been to the cinema much lately, but the other week my brother’s-in-law and I went to see Star Trek.  No, the story makes absolutely no sense, and Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is a swaggering prick with none of the charm of William Shatner (now there’s a sentence I never imagined myself writing), but it’s a solid lasers-and-spaceships blockbuster that’s getting bums on seats, and precisely the shot in the arm that the franchise needs. [Alex McChesney]

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Wow! Well I’m more into the soundtrack by Burt Bacharach (it’s on Spotify) but the film is one of the classics for a reason. Good banter and tidy shoot-outs. Very nice. [Pascal Ansell]

Honey and Clover
This is a sweet but rather depressing tale of a bunch of Japanese art school students and their unrequited love hexagon. At least half the series is either characters gazing wistfully at each other or making lengthy monologues about how they need to stop moping and get a grip. the other half is them all eating amazing looking meals together and OTT manga style slapstick. There’s some totally awesome parts, mostly involving the boy-next-door hero who goes on a crazy cycling trip round Japan to find himself and then uses his experiences to help one of the girls recover from her terrible glass related hospitalisation that threatens to ruin her artistic genius. It’s all rather touching and (kind of a spoiler) no-one ends up with the one they love. Downer. The actual ending though involves one character eating a honey and four leaf clover sandwich on a bus while blubbing. Amazing. I loved this actually, particularly the architecture boy’s collection of jumpers, but I’d probably advise you get the film instead as this has terrible subtitles. I was also delighted that a minor plot point involved the raffle system that Tom Nook used to do in the original Animal Crossing. Seems that Nintendo really got that perfect right down to the last detail. [Marceline Smith]

(Rec.)
Zombies! In a tower block! In Spain! And then a creepy skinny alien zombie thing with an AXE. Yes please. [Stuart Fowkes]

The Day The Clown Cried
2009 has been an absolutely amazing year so far for movies, every movie I have seen at the cinema has been great including The Damned United, In The Loop, Looking For Eric and Synecdoche New York.  Then obviously there has been The Wrestler, the truly heart-warming Anvil story and Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist was a lot of fun too.  Currently though I find myself obsessed with a movie that quite possibly the world will never see again.  In 1972 Jerry Lewis made a movie set during the second world war about a failed clown who finds a talent in entertaining kids in a concentration camp who ends up using this ability to lead them into the gas chamber.  Harry Shearer is one of the few people to have ever seen this movie which apparently is so off the taste Richter scale Shearer described it as a “perfect object.  This movie is so drastically wrong, pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.”  Apparently the only place that there is a copy is in a safe in Jerry Lewis’ office.  What on earth does it say about the mindset of person who came so close to committing career suicide, perhaps his character in The King Of Comedy wasn’t such a stretch after all.  Talk about making the mind boggle, Jerry just release it.  I have also slowly been ploughing my way through watching all the Mumblecore movies so that you don’t have to. [JGRAM]

Observe and Report
I was curious about this — from the previews it looked like a pretty standard Judd Apatow type flick but the reviews implied that it had a dark, “Taxi Driver”-ish edge. I’m not sure either description really nails it. It’s a rather confusing film — it won me over the first 60 minutes or so, then lost me for a while, then won me back, albeit with serious misgivings, towards the end.

The main problem I have with this movie is the main problem I had with “Pineapple Express” which also starred Seth Rogan. On one hand, there’s aspects of these films that feel very real — the characters and dialogue have that “Pulp Fiction” dedication to the most granular aspects of pop culture. On the other hand, much of what happens in both movies is quite absurd, with routine violations of the laws of physics, the laws of society and just plain common sense. In the real universe, Seth Rogan’s “Ronnie” character in “Observe and Report” would have been carted off to a maximum-security prison within the first 30 minutes. So you have to just kind of suspend disbelief and go along for the ride.

Anna Faris is of course perfect as always. She’s really taken the dumb blonde stereotype and put her own stamp on it. And while she’s funny and beautiful, she’s beautiful in a funny kind of way. I could spend hours licking all parts of her body.

One thing struck me today: I’ve seen a few reviewers compare Ronnie to Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver.” But when I consider Ronnie’s dedication to enforcing a moral code on the world while being aware of the amoral nature of the universe, I see a more apt, more modern comparison. Ronnie is a chubbier version of the vigilante Rorschach, from the “Watchmen” movie and graphic novel. [Wil Forbis]

En la ciudad de Sylvie

Posted: May 1st, 2009, by Stan Tontas

Let’s start with the positive: this is a film that’s absolutely committed to telling its story in its way. It also makes excellent use of sound. The subjective viewpoint is sustained across all aspects of the production and for the whole running time.

That said, my god this was boring. This subjective view that the director maintains so well is that of an extremely unappealing borderline stalker utterly consumed by his internal world and failing (or not even trying) to connect to the many people (mostly attractive young women) who he casts his gaze over. Perhaps if the floppy-haired wannabe-Byron I’m-so-deep look doesn’t make you want to scream straight off you may have a better time empathising with him, but anyone of an age to hold their attention through this kind of film will have met (and tired of) such people by now.

There’s almost no dialogue in the film, except as passing fragments, more atmosphere than anything else. A bigger problem is that our Hero is essentially stalking women and I’m not sure if we’re being invited to sympathise with him, or squirm. In the longest of many long sequences he follows one particular woman for around 40 minutes. A generous interpretation could be that the filmaker intends to build up tension (and there was a short sequence that reminded me of Vertigo, though I can’t pin down why), but that’s being very generous.

Essentially this is a well-made film about an unsympathetic character in which almost nothing happens and I can’t think of a compelling reason to go out of your way to see this rather than spend time people-watching in your local cafe.

Solar powered theremins! in 3-D!

Posted: March 17th, 2009, by Stan Tontas

Solar-powered theremins! In 3D!

The Electron Club, based at the CCA, is Geek Heaven on Sauchiehall Street. The linked video not only features theremins powered by the sun, but it’s filmed in old-school red & blue glasses 3-D.

diskant rewind: Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS #6

Posted: January 20th, 2009, by Dave Stockwell

(Originally posted September 2004)

Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS by Dave Stockwell

[Before I begin ranting, let me just clarify that I am in no way a Metallica fan, and nor was I ever one. But…]

Fuck! I think I’ve finally found a film that I can safely say YOU HAVE TO FUCKING WATCH THIS about for 2004. It’s the Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster. I tell you, it’s the new This Is Spinal Tap.

No, seriously. You know how Tap was just crammed full of classic, unbelievable moments, hilarious quotes, and godawful haircuts? You know how there’re moments where you find yourself exclaiming out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, and then there’s others where you’re howling in painful laughter? Well, SkoM probably matches it in all of these regards. It’s so much more than I was expecting. This thing was made during the recording of their new album, just after bassist Jason Newsted quit, and saw the entire band go into therapy, James Hetfield check in and out of rehab, and an awful lot of squabbling, sulking, repressed anger, and an insane amount of money spent on doing nothing.

I tell you, this film has got everything. I was going to reel off a list of highlights, but there’s just so goddamned many. I could write for hours. There’s the interview with Newsted, who’s hilariously candid about how he got bullied as ‘the new boy’ for a full ten years before he finally had enough; which is boosted by Hetfield saying that he’d driven him out because he felt threatened by Newsted’s desire to promote his other musical project, whilst merrily recalling that he never let the fella have any creative input at all into Metallica. There’s the bit whilst everyone sits around in the studio for A YEAR waiting for Hetfield to work up the botheredness to come back to work; during which Ulrich finds the time have a therapy session with Dave Mustaine, who breaks down in tears about how he considers himself an utter failure since he got sacked as Metallica guitarist back in ’82 (note: Mustaine has sold fifteen million albums in Megadeth). And when Hetfield deigns to come back, you get to see him sulking like a baby when the others dare to listen to tapes of sessions outside of the strict noon-’til-4pm schedule that he has to work by. Then there’s the band’s laughable attempts to work together on lyric-writing, which reaps some of the worst teenage poetry you’ll ever have the misfortune to hear outside of a GCSE English class populated by tragic Goths. Oh yeah, and there’s the awful lumpen riffs all over the place…

And this is just scratching the surface. There are just so many classic moments.

Continue reading »

“The robots develop their own musical culture. There are no pre-programmed musical rules.”

Posted: November 3rd, 2008, by Stan Tontas

New Scientist report on experiments with music & artificial intelligence. One robot “sings” a few notes to the other, which sings back. If the 1st robot thinks the songs are similar, they agree to remember the sequence.

The researcher hopes that this will lead to the robots helping “him to compose music that no human would ever come up with”. I am sceptical, not just because the attached video (Quicktime format, <1 minute) is pretty underwhelming.

If the robots choose the sounds which are the same, where is the scope for development? Can robots do improv? Or will this just lead to them adopting a fixed repertoire (which, to be fair would be pretty cool if they started from zero with regards to the robots making sounds)?

Surely the thing that would lead to new sounds would be the criteria that the robots use to reject or adopt a “song” – and here it seems to be “this is the same as what my mate sings”. That brings you a zillion indie bands, not “new musical cultures”. I get that there are “emergent” properties from simple systems (think fractals) but the way this story is described, these are being selected out of the robots. If the song isn’t sung back to you it’s discarded.

Poor bastards! Not even self-aware but still subject to merciless criticism by its only friend! Imagine a robot Jimi Hendrix. No-one singing your tunes back to you. Cursed to artistic isolation until musical tastes catch up to you. Singing unheard till your batteries run out or you break down through overwork in the face of an unappreciative world, found disassembled in a bath, OD’ing on acid and lithium…

Maybe the answers are in the full research paper.